So, yesterday on Twitter I got to thinking about laser-launched lightsail nanoprobes:
Currently, the big idea is to launch teeny-tiny lightsail probes at neighboring stars to get a look around — current thought is that technology as it is now could handle boosting some 1 gram probes attached to 20 meter lightsails up to 20% of lightspeed.
(I’ve cued the video to a bit about how teeny the working part of the probe would be — if you’re so inclined the whole video is a long, academic discussion of the whole idea that’s pretty decent if that’s your cup of tea.)
With only a few — but even better with a huge cloud, as I briefly fantasize about elsewhere — we could get a fine look at a stellar neighbor and see if there are any planets there that would be practical targets for a generation ship to settle. Think big, I say. Best to get humanity out of this fragile little egg basket we call Earth. Not just into the rest of the Solar System, but into others if we can manage it.
But nanoprobes, good for peeking at the neighbors, could be great for raw astronomy and investigation of the nature of the universe.
The Quanta link in my lead tweet above is about theories regarding the behavior of dark matter. Imagine how useful for that and other questions we itty-bitty humans have about our gigantic universe it would be to launch a gigantic lens of nanoprobes sailing off in a couple of different directions. To fire them out of the plane of the ecliptic and out of the cloud of particles and matter the Sun drags with it through space. To shoot them toward things we want to observe at 20% of lightspeed and compare the observations with what we see when that light and radiation reaches Earth. To fire them off the other way and let them crawl back in time (effectively) to compare to past observations.
To build expanding lenses light-minutes across in interstellar space, peering deeper and more clearly into the universe than humans have ever managed before.
Take some time to really think about it. It’s a breathtaking opportunity for pure science. And pure science, practical-minded friends, pays off in the long run.
This is a little flash story I cobbled together while feeling adventurous about format and framing of stories. And, as usual, about the future. It seemed fitting to post it following the arrival of the Juno craft at Jupiter.
Hopefully the WordPress text editor won’t make too much of a hash of it — I’ll do my best to keep it looking like it’s supposed to.
This story first appeared as a patron-exclusive post on my Patreon page on July 5th — patrons see most posts 3 days early, stories 30 days early, get free ebooks whenever I publish a new one, and random exclusive stuff on occasion when I come up with something I think my patrons would like.
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Overheard Through an Apartment Wall in a City Orbiting Jupiter
At first he was speaking quietly
‘snot like it’s a new thing. People say, they say to me, hey, you’re thirteen hundred years old, man, of course you’ve forgotten best friends and lovers and all that shit shortlifers kill themselves over. But to you, hey, what’s all that? It’s no big, that’s what. It all spins around, you’ve got an age in Pluto years, man, and all we pygmies under three digits are like just dust swirlin’ ’round in the bright lightsocket, yeah.
but as he spoke his voice became louder
But what do those people know? They know nothin’. Nothin.
and I heard glass breaking
They think it’s cool, forgetting best buds and how we became so, just burnt out of there like a synapse forest fire, forgetting lovers, wives, husbands, even kids? To forget them and never remember ’til you read on a newsite how they died saving six people from decompression mapping out mineral deposits in the greasy guts of Orcus or they’re a loved great-times-six grandmother survived by who knows how many hundreds and you can’t remember her name until it says what it was in the obituary? And it’s not the years, it’s not the years, there are still a couple hundred of us in the first wave of the bioimmortal and far as I know all the rest all the damn rest still remember who’s important, hell, most of the most important to all of us are all the rest of the first wave, but
followed by a sob
oh I don’t know. Maybe they’re like me, just like me, maybe that’s how we get this old, throwing off dead leaf memories in the fall like the trees in the north when the winds start coming cold. How would I know. Dont’ talk to one of them. The years don’t make me forget. They never made me forget. I remember Tinisia, I can remember her a thousand years away, tiny little thing, graceful, her making coffee was a ballet, I remember her name and how she laughed and the smell of her skin in the morning after and last I heard she headed out in a whole hollowed-out asteroid balloon full of longlifers to see what’s around what star I can’t remember but they thought it might have two or even three Earths worth living on around it, big fat red simmering campfire with a Goldilocks the size of half a Solar system. Take them ten thousand years or maybe twenty and odds are I’ll be here to hear and not remember a damn thing I can’t forget Tinisia or
and I strained to hear another voice but there was only his growing softer again
But the rest, the rest, my own daughters, my own sons, they have no names any more and some of them are still alive out there and I don’t know
in a steady stream of words. If someone else had been there, I never would have known.
and I should know. I don’t know. If friends and family are what life is about then fuck them I’ve never lived or maybe I did but I’m not now and that’s bull, I have lived, I do live, I don’t need
Even when he wasn’t speaking, I heard faint sobbing. He never stopped speaking or sobbing. Not until
don’t need I don’t need shit.
the end when I heard footsteps
Ah, I sound like a brat baby fifty years old just figurin’ it out thumb in mouth. Was I fifty? Must have been, got here. ‘magine what it was for people in the old days, old west when the data roamed wild and free under the blue sky and never past the moon, takes a hundred years just to figure out how it all works, how all the things and people go together and bounce ’round and most all of it doesn’t matter a damn ‘cept if it makes you all happy right that moment, most all of it, who cares, nobody cares, not worth rememberin’ but worth it in the moment, and it all goes ’round, ’round, ’round, and much under a hundred it don’t make no sense but ’round then you figure it all out and the world starts to sorta work in a way you can get
and the door opened
my dad, what was his name, Chuck or Chas or Channing or Cher, a C-word, that was him, doesn’t matter his name he was a damn baby and died, fifty years old didn’t have time to know he didn’t know, and how old was I you expect me to know what happened when I was a snotnosed brat? Didn’t know anything then. Wasn’t nobody worth remembering.
and he paused
Not him, not me. Not who knows how many billions. Nobody knows.
and the door closed. I only heard a few more words.
Can you imagine what the world was like, when everyone died before they had time to figure out what it was all about? Wish I could ask
There’s always the danger of being wrong when making a prediction. I’m well acquainted with that risk — I write science fiction. My entire job is making up cool stories on a foundation of predictions that are probably wrong.
So when I predict that Trump will withdraw from the race with a Scooby-Doo quote, I’d be flabbergasted to be completely, literally correct.
But I do expect to be substantially correct — but what is that supposed to mean? Is it a cop-out?
Let me explain with an example.
Take the H.G. Wells “scientific romance” of 1901, The First Men in the Moon. In it, Wells imagines the invention of a fantastic metal called “cavorite” which naturally rises. His heroes make a vessel out of cavorite, fly to the moon, and have an adventure among the native “Selenites,” their “moon calves,” and so on and so forth.
Wells figured that as technology advanced, people would want to go explore the moon. So he made up a story about it. The details are way wrong, which is almost inevitable when you’re predicting future discoveries that are unknowns to the age in which you’re writing. But the meat of it is right: people wanted to explore the moon, we figured out how, and some people went and took a look around the moon.
Similarly, I figure Trump is going to flake. Flaking is his whole history. He has a ‘great’ idea, pursues it like a monomaniac, overdoes and misunderstands a bunch of things about it, the idea goes sour, and he finds a reason to back out and a way to leave with enough money in his pocket that he gets to go on being rich (which I figure probably has more to do with the skills of the lawyers and accountants he retains than his dodgy business acumen). He did it with his casinos and his vodka and his steaks and his home financing company and his “University” and his football league and his water and his airline and… yeah. We’ll be here all day if we want to list everything.
Well, he’s had the ‘great’ idea to finally pull the trigger and run for President like he’s been hinting for the last 30 years or so. He has pursued it like a monomaniac through the primaries, going nuts on Twitter and at rallies, and has effectively won the nomination, being the last candidate standing as the primary season has come to a close. But he has overdone a bunch of things (like the racism and the hawkishness and the vitriol) and misunderstood others (like, apparently, how being President works, or anything about actual domestic or international policy). Now the idea is going sour. His polling numbers have plunged into the basement, his unfavorable rating is headed up into untrod territory for a presidential candidate, and the party he think has to fall in line behind him is getting alarmed as they realize the only ones behind Trump are the half of the Caucasian male GOP and 10% or less of any other demographic including undecided voters.
So the next step, after things go sour enough to penetrate Trump’s hair-helmet combover-weave-whateverthefuckthatis and skull and ego, is that he’ll flake on this grand adventure just like all the others. He’ll make up a few dozen excuses as to how it’s really a victory and he lost nothing doing it and in fact he’s ended up richer (though he’s “ended up richer” from a couple of dozen failures and somehow he doesn’t seem any richer than when his inheritance was new, but nevermind that) and it all proves that he’s a genius who is totally the best at everything kind of like the magic Kim dynasty of North Korea that Trump has expressed admiration of.
I think he’ll flake totally and quit in a snit and the excuses and defenses and “I’m a genius and my quitting proves it”s are going to fly. And he’ll do it before the formal vote of the general election proves how generally disliked and distrusted he really is.
So stay tuned. Maybe I’ll be wrong. But if I am, it’ll be in the particulars. People will go to the moon, and Trump will fail, quit, and make excuses.
SFNN> Classified> Off-Earth > Outer System> Kuiper> Pluto> Jobs> Technical> Supervisory
HYDROPONICS AND RECREATIONAL GENERALIST (HRG)
Salary Band 8(b)
This is a position with the Eurasian University Cooperative (EUC), Facilities Maintenance Division.
Successful applicants must pass a comprehensive full-record Onboard DNA-ROM Codex (ODNARC) examination. Felonies of any nature and offenses of any level of or related to plagiarism, intellectual property theft, academic/research honor code violation, or violence are disqualifying without appeal.
Primary operating languages:
English, Russian, Mandarin, Japanese, Hindi
Linguistic mastery of 2 or more Eurasian languages independent of translationware a plus
Successful applicant without onboard translationware will receive a discounted (66.67% discount) academic/professional grade global and dialectical translationware implant compatible with their current prefrontal bioprocessor OS. OS must be up to date with active and EUC-approved malware and spyware protection. Translationware purchased by this method will be billed in 50 weekly installments during first year of service at 0% interest. In event of early termination or resignation remaining balance will become due immediately with pending balances at 30% APR calculated on a weekly basis.
Hydroponics tech certification (6-year instructional program), reduced gravity environment safety and competence certification (with residency). Recreational design certification (2-year instructional program) may be earned via VR learning during first two years of service. 3.25 GPA minimum to proceed; unsatisfactory progress is grounds for termination after 2 quarters academic probation.
1 year small team (2-20 individual) supervisory experience required, performance must be verifiable through 2 or more professional references.
Duty schedule, salary, benefits:
The HMG manages 2 subordinates at 5 days of 10 hours weekly and 0-5 educational or apprenticeship interns at 3 days of 5 hours weekly. The duty team includes 5 pre-AI android semiskilled laborers at 6 days of 15 hours weekly.
The HMG is on-call 24 hours with scheduled duty hours of 4 days at 10 hours plus 1 day at 5 hours weekly. Off duty/on-call days shall be contiguous except in EUC-valid extenuating circumstances and shall advance 1 calendar day per week to improve whole-community access to the HMG. Example: week 1 off-duty FRI-SAT becomes off-duty SAT-SUN in week 2. Likewise, regular scheduled duty hours shall advance 2 hours per schedule week. Example: Week 1 10-hour days of 0700-1500 become 0900-1700 in week 2.
The HMG is budgeted 260 hours of Paid Time Off (PTO) yearly accrued at 5 hours per calendar week of employment. No more than 90 hours shall be taken consecutively. PTO shall not accrue above 260 hours. Earned PTO not accrued due to accrual cap shall be paid at the end of each calendar week at a rate of 1.5x hourly pay as earned.
The HMG receives priority-personnel-beta (Band 2 of 5) for recreation (alpha priority (band 1 of 5) in the facility they manage), medical treatment and disaster relief.
EUC contribution to retirement fund is 7.5% of salary accrued weekly; HMG may choose to contribute a maximum of an additional 7.5%. Funds are limited to EUC-approved savings, bond, and securities instruments. Investment diversity is recommended.
The HMG will maintain a hydroponics facility rated to serve a population of 10,000 individuals. The hydroponics ecosystem includes standard, drip, and mist components and includes composting, incinerating, and recycling human and animal waste and garbage.
Bacteria, fungus, plant, fish, amphibian, bird, and small mammal populations are part of the hydroponics ecosystem and must be managed and harvested for edible and otherwise useful biomass at optimal levels.
The hydroponics environment includes public-accessible parklands with maximum occupancy of 500. Parklands must be managed to optimize environmental support, recreational value, aesthetics, and agricultural performance.
The HMG is expected to optimize and improve the performance of the hydroponics facility on an ongoing basis through research, innovation, and implementation of upgrades, redesign opportunities, and integration of new discoveries in the fields of hydroponics and recreation.
The EUC utilizes the Global Blind Application System (GLOBAS) which strips demographics-revealing data from applications. If you believe your circumstances may confer priority status upon your application you may not state so to the EUC but must apply to GLOBAS for pre-GLOBAS prioritization. Making an assertion of priority status to the EUC regardless of veracity will result in disqualification.
The EUC has zero tolerance for harassment of any variety and utilizes an all-Artificial Intelligence 3rd party service for adjudication of internal incidents.
I know, I know. We have to ask these questions in public, for all those who haven’t thought about it, don’t care about it, or think the future of humanity off this planet is a science fiction pipe dream.
Sure, it’s a bit of a pipe dream. Because getting a significant and sustainable human presence into space — onto asteroids, moons, other planets, into artificial habitats — is still an endeavor that is on the edge of our capabilities. It’s an expensive undertaking, because we’re very busy with resource-intensive activities like war and selling things to each other and making sure we have ample infrastructure and funding to support sports events.
And nobody wants to grow up and leave home. It’s a big fat pain in the ass. It’s easier to stay. And stagnate. And eventually be buried in the comfortable, familiar back yard in the shadow of a progressively older and less comfortable home.
I think it’s better if we get out there. I understand if some of you don’t. I just think you’re on the wrong side of future history and common sense. We, as a species, cling to the familiar — but we are also explorers and wanderers and have been for many thousands of years. While individuals may be happy to stay home on Earth, and that’s fine, opening up the frontier of the rest of the solar system opens a psychological gate; we have no real frontiers left on the planet for the disaffected to run to. Having frontiers again, just knowing they’re there, would probably relieve a lot of the feelings many of us angrily have, of being trapped. Being able to actually get off Earth if one is so inclined would be equally if not more helpful.
And those resources floating around up there can help Earth, too. It might be nice to shut down heavily-polluting rare earth metal mines in our backyard in favor of importing them from asteroid mines that don’t have ecologies around them to worry about, for example.
But I could rant on this subject all day — I’ll go ahead and give you a break here.
Image credit: NASA
Bradbury Meets Autonomy Goal, Mayor Declares Holiday
(APM) 01 March 2145
Mayor Sonny Desai of the city of Bradbury, North American Mars declared today to be the first annual (Earth calendar) Bradbury Autonomy Day. Ceremonies in Barsoom Square, including a free banquet of locally farmed vegetables, fish, chicken, and cuy (guinea pig), were attended by North American Mars System Governor Hanh Rossberger, present holographically from Ariesynchronous orbital habitat and former military facility Campfollower.
The occasion marks the first time Bradbury has been able to meet the self-sufficiency standards set at the colony’s inception in 2089: computer model projection of the ability to maintain the city’s environment and ability to provide for food, water, and breathable atmosphere needs of all inhabitants for at least one Earth year without outside aid or input of resources.
This achievement is the result of Desai’s Practical Standards Program, inaugurated shortly after his accession to office in 2139. Although a mild local recession and reduction of living standards for Bradbury’s 23,000 citizens resulted, polls show that 67% +/-4% approve of the program. “China’s Red-Gold City [atop the Mons Olympus plateau] achieved self-sufficiency in 2135. I see no reason that we cannot do the same,” Desai said at the time. “The good people of Bradbury have proven my trust in them was justified,” the Mayor said at the opening of ceremonies today. “My fellow citizens, I am deeply proud and humbled by your hard work and sacrifice for us all.”
Taifun Arrives in Lunar Orbit
L5 News & Entertainment Network
14 January 2357
Taifun took its place in Lunar orbit today, as projected. The asteroid, 9.8 kilometers in diameter, was first discovered in November of 2271. Its original trajectory was a near-certain direct hit on Earth in 2340 and would have generated a force roughly equal to what was produced by the Chicxulub impactor which was a factor in the decline and extinction of the dinosaurs approximately 65 million years ago.
Project Jade Emperor, named for a figure of ancient Chinese mythology who vanquished a primal and destructive evil from heaven and earth, began its work altering the trajectory of Taifun by 2280. Enormous on-site ion drives were built on Taifun’s surface; the first was ignited in 2288. Those same ion drives, the majority now over 8 decades old, have fallen silent. The work of establishing mines to take advantage of Taifun’s trillion-plus tons of rock, nickel-iron, and rare earth metals is projected to begin within 2 years. The ion drives will remain in place and are undergoing overhauls so they can be used for course corrections during the decades that Taifun will remain in lunar orbit; finally, they will be used to expel the mined-out remains from the Earth-Luna system.
More than 300 universities throughout the solar system have requested permission to set up research stations on the surface of Taifun, most applications being submitted within the last decade. Selection of approvals, anticipated to number 20 or fewer, will be announced in early 2358 according to a press release from United Nations Deimos Annex.
This is how Pluto looked when Clyde Tombaugh discovered it in 1930. A bright mote, an apparent star that moved in a way that betrayed its planetary nature — for someone who was looking carefully enough.
Things have gotten a bit better with New Horizons; you can see the latest images on NASA’s NH page. Here’s one that’s new as of this post date:
Edit: new image below, 14 JUL:
Quite the improvement, no?
Well, yes. But it has been a long wait, hasn’t it? 85 years. Granted, we could hardly have dispatched an airplane to take a closer look in 1930. Modern rocketry as in its infancy, as was broadcasting. Even if a 1930s era rocket could have been launched at Pluto, we’d hardly have gotten word back of success reaching it, much less a picture.
I do worry that these are the best images I’ll see in my lifetime, and I’m only 45. But NASA’s funding has been either waning or just holding on against inflation these last three decades, not growing, and the bulk of the current crop of Presidential candidates seem to be mostly unenthused by NASA. ‘What’s the point of spending a whole penny on the federal budget dollar on all this sciency stuff? We’ve got people to feed, bomb, feed bombs to, bomb with food, and so forth, right here on Earth.’
Hostility to and/or disinterest in space, NASA, science, and scholarly investigation in general is nothing new. In the 1970s and 80s, Senator William Proxmire (D) of Wisconsin is a ‘fine’ recent example, with his ‘Golden Fleece’ awards that, as often as not, lambasted space and science funding as wasted effort and wasted money. Plenty of commentators, regular folks, and politicians jump on that anti-intellectual, short-view bandwagon from time to time.
Frankly, it’s a nasty and dangerous habit, this idea that exploring the cosmos around us, exploring our own planet further, and learning in general is a waste of money and effort. There’s a lot to be gained by exploration, here and up there. Aren’t you reading this on a computer? Possibly a computer that also telephones people and locates itself by GPS? Thank scientists, scholars, inquisitive types, the space program, all those ‘wastes of money’ that pay off in knowledge and in the things that knowledge makes possible, if you spend the money learning now and have the patience to wait a decade or two for the payoff.
I know, we’re not that great at long-term thinking, most of us. But seriously. Yes, we’re just looking at Pluto, which is hardly going to be useful real estate or mining grounds next week, year, or decade. But every time we do something like this, we don’t just learn more about how our planetary neighbors work. We learn more about communications, propulsion, efficient generation and use of power sources, miniaturization, navigation, and so on, and so forth, and likely things that you and I haven’t thought of yet that will pay off come 2045.
Not to mention, as big as this earth is, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of the solar system. Planets and asteroids and comets, oh my, swimming in a constant rain of free-to-gather energy that is sunlight (or maybe magnetic if you want to venture to the moons of Saturn and Jupiter and do some tinkering). Sometimes people talk about this ‘high frontier’ as if it could be a relief valve for overpopulation, but no, it’s not that. No more than opening California to colonization relieved crowding in New York City. But a wide frontier is a relief valve for people who are gravely dissatisfied with current affairs at home, and we as a planetary society haven’t really had one of those in quite a few decades now. Yes, there’s a certain lack of open air and flowing water up there among the various possible destinations. So what?
The big ‘so what’ is that we’re doing little practicing of how to keep people alive in places like that. There’s a space station, and 40+ years after people walked on the moon it’s still an itty-bitty one with a few people, entirely supplied from earth. It’s useful, and we learn from it, and we’ve no apparent interest in pushing the boundaries meaningfully as a species. Well, China has done a little talking in that direction, Maybe in response to US talk about sending people to Mars, maybe, one day, well maybe not, or maybe we’ll just push back the ‘maybe’ date… you get the idea. We like talking about it a bit, but few are serious about it, especially among those who would have to speak the loudest to fund such a nutty idea as putting a bunch of people on the moon or Mars to live long term, the politicians. They’re not that interested, and the public isn’t that interested. And that’s a shame. We won’t spread off this rock unless there’s an interest in doing so. Maybe the interest will come too late, after climate change gets nasty enough to cause even middle-class folks serious problems at home. Such a wait-till-the-crisis scenario would be a shame, too. Because, like in the ‘reduce population pressure’ scenario, colonizing the moon or Mars of anything else out there would not be a way to evacuate millions or billions of people in troubles.
But it would be a great way to spread the human race out a bit so that it’s not in danger of croaking en masse if a massive disaster of some sort were to loom. And it would, if no disaster comes to call, be a great way to expand the knowledge, both practical and abstract, of the human race as a whole — and that expansion would all be fuel for the next round of life-improving gadgets just as food preservation, improved transportation, construction and maintenance of internets, and so forth have been for us.
Don’t be selfish. Help the people of 2100 surpass us as much as we’ve surpassed the people of 1930.